HAPPY BOOK SALE SUNDAY, DEAR READERS!
I have 56 science fiction novels on tap until Sept 1 in Kindle Unlimited, many at 0.99. You'll read blurbs for a few of them in today's newsletter, along with some exclusive FREE offers today through Tuesday below.
Congratulations to Ed. P of Haddon Township, NJ for winning an early advance reader print copy of CRIMSY along with Edwin Abbott's classic sci-fi novella, Flatland.
And now, this excerpt from a latter chapter of CRIMSY. Seriously injured by a rogue android, NASA astronaut Rob Hightower makes an emergency trip back to Earth from the Deep Space Gateway space station (DSG) aboard an Orion space capsule with help from fellow DSG astronauts Ryong and Gillory.
The return trip hits a snag when the young woman at Orion's helm, main character Jennifer Zendeck, gets personal commands from the station's creepy operating system, nicknamed Mama (after the Genesis song). Crimsy -- Crimsococcus halocryophilus -- is the harmless but hardy bacteria Jennifer's team discovered on Mars for study on Earth.
I CHECKED CAPTAIN HIGHTOWER'S suture-tourniquet assembly and made sure Crimsy’s cooler remained tightly-moored and sealed before buckling myself back into my seat.
“The crew module will detach from service module, re-position, and start descent,” Commander Ryong said. “We will lose each other to ionization communication blackout for a few minutes, then JPL will pick up after. Parachutes deploy in sequence, and you’ll splash down gentle as a lamb.”
“We hope,” Hightower said.
He gave me a groggy thumbs up with the packaging from the second Vicodin in his gloved hand. I had no idea how he got it into his mouth under the helmet. But he was an old hand at suiting up and down for space.
“Not looking forward to the Gs,” he said. It bothered me that he took the pill, but I couldn’t begrudge him the fix. I was more worried about his sutures holding under the stress of re-entry.
“You still can’t tell me where we’re going?” I asked Ryong.
“And risk Mama hearing?” Ryong said. “It’s a safe place. Bill Marcum told me to tell you Sara Goode co-wrote your splashdown program with him. And Alonzo Cooper has guaranteed clear weather. Lots of tricky logistics.”
We were in good hands, for sure.
“Re-entry sequence initiated.”
We started moving in earnest, DSG gradually panoramic through the window. I reached up and pressed the manual launch sequence on the touch screen in front of me. We slowed.
“Orion, what’s going on?” Ryong said. “Over.”
“Manual launch sequence initiated,” I said. “Over.”
“Launch sequence. Over.”
“What are you doing?”
“Manual nothing,” Ryong said. “Everything’s automated.”
“What’s up, Jen?” Captain Gillory asked.
“Just doing what I’m supposed to," I said.
“You’re not supposed to do anything,” Ryong said. “We’ve got this, not you.”
The service module started pushing the Orion crew module in another direction. We weren’t headed toward Earth, like we had been, but apparently re-entering—at a different location? Must have been. I was supposed to initiate manual launch. I learned that. I knew it. Their questions baffled me.
“Jennifer—” Ryong said.
“What’s wrong?” Gillory said. “Why aren’t you separating from the service module?”
“Jennifer initiated a manual launch sequence.”
“Why?” Gillory asked.
Then Mama intruded. “Proof of concept,” she said.
“What concept?” I said.
“You weren’t supposed to initiate anything,” Ryong said. “It’s that simple.”
“I don’t mean you,” I said.
“It’s your destiny,” Mama said. “Going to Mars has always been your destiny.”
“Jen—I need you to put Orion back on auto-pilot. If you don’t do it now, you will be on your way into deep space.”
“Deep space,” Hightower said.
“Jennifer?” Gillory said. “Listen to him.”
“You can go to Mars, with no food, no fear, no psychological breakdowns, and most importantly—no forward contamination,” Mama explained.
“Jennifer—you’ve got to return Orion to autopilot,” Ryong said. “You have to do it now.”
“We even fixed your ears,” Mama exclaimed. “No need to ground you anymore.”
“Autopilot, Jen. It’s the switch marked AP-Engage.”
“Engage what? Them who done you wrong? Who killed your father and all but your mind and your memories?” Mama said. “Their brilliant conduit into the most important scientific mission in history. You, dear Jennifer. Your destiny.”
“Shut up!” I said into my helmet, where everyone could hear me scream. Leave me alone. Get away from me. You don’t know me. “You don’t understand me.”
“Don’t understand you?” Mama said. “I designed you.”
I panicked, wanting desperately to unbuckle myself, to run. “You killed my father?” I asked.
“Not me,” Mama said. “Them.”
“Them,” she said again. “Them who made me. Two small explosions in the brake line and steering column. Didn’t you hear those, Jennifer? Don’t you remember?”
“Gonna be high as a kite,” I heard Hightower say wistfully. “I miss the Earth so much—” He was trying to sing.
“He’s not going to make it, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Mama said. “Re-entry will rip that wound wide open and he’ll bleed to death. What were you and the love of his life thinking?”
“Mars—it’s cold as hell,” Hightower sang. And kept singing, in a happy stupor.
This song used to fill our house, my classic rock parents, and us. Dad and David would pick up his Lego thingamajigs and fly them around to it, up and down the stairs, out the front door, onto the porch and into the yard, sometimes at night, where they would silhouette the little red-and-white imaginings against the Moon, the stars, and on those rare nights Mars was visible, the Red Planet, too.
Whatever was clouding my vision started to clear. “I don’t believe you,” I told Mama. “You’re messing with my mind to sabotage this ship.”
“You’re going to sabotage that ship, Jennifer,” Ryong said. “Auto-pilot. Now!”
“Where?” I said. “What do I—”